Community Engagement, Partnerships and Technical Assistant Core

Core overviewScreen Shot 2015-03-06 at 1.21.59 PM

The HPDP Community Engagement Core helps to create and foster partnerships between researchers and communities. Our experts have developed successful, sustainable partnerships with communities across the country and have evidence-based tools and strategies to assist with the development of an engagement project from any stage.


Core staff/leadership

Alexandra Lightfoot,  EdD
Alexandra Lightfoot, EdD

Alexandra Lightfoot is Director of the Community Engagement, Partnerships, Technical Assistance and Training Cores at the Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, a CDC-funded Prevention Research Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC). She also provides Research Services support for CARES (Community Academic Resources for Engaged Scholarship) through the North Carolina Translational Research and Clinical Sciences (NC TraCS) Institute, home of UNC’s Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA).  Through HPDP and NC TraCS, she provides technical assistance and consultation to build capacity in community-based participatory research (CBPR), leveraging community expertise to strengthen research partnerships through the Charrette community engagement consulting model. As Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Health Behavior at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, she co-instructs Health Behavior 710, a graduate seminar on CBPR and the qualitative research method of Photovoice, with Dr. Geni Eng.  Dr. Lightfoot’s research focuses on adolescents and explores the intersection of education inequities and health disparities. She is Principal Investigator on two studies implementing adolescent HIV prevention interventions, one working with African American youth in faith settings and public housing communities and the second testing an interactive theater approach in school settings. She serves as Co-Investigator on several research projects using CBPR to tackle chronic disease disparities in rural and urban communities across the state, including ACCURE (Accountability for Cancer Care and Racial Equity), which uses a racial equity framework to address health disparities in cancer outcomes. She is also Co-Investigator on Envisioning Health/Yo Veo Salud, which uses visual interventions, including Photovoice, to address implicit bias in providers and improve health and health care for Latino/a adolescents. Dr. Lightfoot holds an EdD from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She has extensive experience fostering university-community partnerships, engaging diverse stakeholders, and generating effective strategies to enhance community and university capacity.

Molly DeMarco_pref
Molly De Marco, PhD

Dr. Molly De Marco, PhD, MPH, is a Research Fellow and Project Director with HPDP working in our Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR) Unit and engaged as key staff on the Community Academic Resources for Engaged Scholarship (CARES) Program of the North Carolina Translational Research and Clinical Sciences (NC TraCS) Institute, home of UNC’s Clinical and Translational Science (CTSA) Award. Her primary area of research is the local food system and it’s link to food access for low-income populations. She is a co-investigator on the Faith, Farming, and the Future (R21) grant examining the role of gardening and food system education on health outcomes for rural, African American youth with her community research partners in Warren County, North Carolina. She co-developed and teaches each Spring term Nutrition 245, Sustainable, Local Food Systems – Intersection of Local Foods and Public Health, a service learning course. With TraCS CARES, she facilitates linkages between community members and academics with similar research interests. She is also co-investigator and lead evaluator for the current Administrative Supplement to UNC’s Clinical and Translational Science (CTSA) Award that is developing and piloting the CBPR charrettes and the Community Review Boards in partnership with Vanderbilt University. She is a co-investigator on the Center to Reduce CVD Disparities: Genes, Clinics and Communities (P-50) assessing the role of neighborhood context and social determinants of health on cardiovascular disease risk.

Links and Resources

Christina Yongue Hardy, a Community Research Fellow, providing consultation to members of a community-academic partnership

CPBR Charrettes

A key activity of HPDP’s Engagement Core is the development, implementation and evaluation of facilitated guidance sessions, or Charrettes, for investigators and community partners who express interest in using community-based participatory research (CBPR) approaches. The National Charrette Institute describes a “charrette” as a collaborative planning process that harnesses the talents and energies of all interested parties to create and support a feasible plan to bring about transformative community change. Community and academic partners, working in collaboration with HPDP, adapted the NCI concept to develop a research partnership-strengthening process and evaluation tool aligned with CBPR principles, the Multidimensional Assessment of Partnerships (MAP).

Learn more about CPBR Charrettes here

Black, K., Hardy, C.Y., De Marco, M., Ammerman, A., Corbie-Smith, G., Council, B., Ellis, D., Eng, E., Harris, B., Jackson, M., Jean-Baptiste, J., Kearney, W., Legerton, M., Parker, D., Wynn, M., & Lightfoot, A. (2013). Beyond Incentives for Involvement to Compensation for Consultants: Increasing Equity in CBPR Approaches. Progress in Community Health Partnerships: Research, Education and Action. 7(3):263-270. PMID: 24056508

News about our core

Chancellor Holden Thorp with Office of the Provost Engaged Scholarship Award recipients Steve Knotek, Niklaus Steiner (Carolina Navigators), Alexandra Lightfoot (Community-Based Participatory Research Core) and Executive Vice Provost Ron Strauss.

Office of the Provost Engaged Scholarship Award.

Award: 2012 Office of the Provost Engaged Scholarship Award presented to the CBPR Core of the Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, In recognition of outstanding service to the state of North Carolina through exemplary partnerships promoting community-based participatory research.

Community-responsive research priorities: health research infrastructure.

Article on Health Priority-Setting Process Implemented by UNC Partners from NC TraCS CARES Jones B, Lightfoot A, De Marco M, Roman Isler M, Ammerman A, Nelson D, Harrison, L., Motsinger, B., Melvin, C., & Corbie-Smith, G. Community responsive research priorities: Transforming health research infrastructure. Progress in community health partnerships: Research, education, and action, 6 (3): 339-348, 2012.

Community Engagement Consulting

Rev. Bill Kearney, Community Expert, and Dr. Molly De Marco in Warren County

Client: Dorothy Rider Pool Trust/Lehigh Valley Health Network

The Affordable Care Act (ACA), enacted March 23, 2010, requires non-profit hospitals to conduct a community health needs assessment at least once every three years.  In the Lehigh Valley (east central Pennsylvania), the four non-profit health care systems, Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Network, Lehigh Valley Health Network, Sacred Heart Health Care System, and St. Luke’s University Health Network, joined forces with a local foundation, The Dorothy Rider Pool Health Care Trust to establish the Health Care Council of the Lehigh Valley.  The goal of the HCC is to complete a comprehensive community health needs assessment to meet the requirements of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act for the hospitals and also to engage community stakeholders in the process through initiating community dialogues to elicit input on health data, identify health priorities and gaps, and garner suggestions to inform the development of an action plan to address the health needs of the people of the Lehigh Valley.  The data from the first phase of the CHNA are summarized in a Community Health Profile (2012).  In the fall of 2012, the Health Care Council of the Lehigh Valley decided to conduct two sets of Community Forums as a second phase of the assessment process to provide opportunity to Lehigh Valley residents to respond to the data documented in the Profile. The Pool Trust contracted with our CBPR Core at the Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention (HPDP) at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) to design the forum process. Drs. Alexandra Ligthfoot and Molly De Marco and one of their community partners, Melvin Jackson, conducted the forums in Allentown and Bethlehem.  The findings from the forums were used to validate data from the Community Health Profile and inform the next phase of the process – developing action plans that respond to the Community Health Profile and incorporate Community Health Forum findings to reduce health disparities in the Lehigh Valley.

Lightfoot, A.F., De Marco, M. M., Dendas, R. C., Jackson, M. R., & Meehan, E. F. (2014). Engaging Underserved Populations in Affordable Care Act-required Needs Assessments. Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved. 25(1), 11-18. PMID: 24583483